“Haawa” is a big word

Published by info@haidanation.com on

Haida language learners and teachers from Kasaan, Hydaburg, Gaaw, HlGaagilda, and as far away as California came together in Juneau this June 8th. The 68 travellers represented all three Haida dialects from Alaska, Gaaw and HlGaagilda. They came together in the midst of a colourful coastal cultural festival called Celebration, during which new found friends and long lost relatives made plenty of time for learning and visiting. Besides reporting on the Haida language achievements and challenges of their communities, attendees participated in the many adventures and activities that were ongoing throughout the week, singing, dancing, eating, and laughing. The travellers started with introductions at the newly opened Alaska State Museum, where learners from each community reported on all the work they were completing.

A Long Journey

“I wanted to say how happy we are to be here with you, our relatives!” Iljuu Xiilaay (Isobel Brillon) began. “You are all our relatives. We love being here. We’ve been so excited to come here. We’ve been talking about it for weeks and weeks.” Iljuu Xiilaay arrived in Juneau along with 34 other language learning community members from HlGaagilda.

Since the Skidegate Haida Immersion Program was founded in 1998 Haida language mentors have created a Haida Language Nest for toddlers, elementary and high school language programs, and even a four-year college program to teach language teachers. This year fluent elders continued to invest time in students every day with Tal Gyaa’adad (Betty Richardson) teaching pre-school, Sing.giduu (Laura Jormananian) taking them from kindergarten to grade seven, SGaana Jaads Kyaaga Xiigans (Golie Hans) continuing with grade eight to eleven, and Ildagwaay (Beatrice Harley) teaching adults who work at the Gwaii Haanas office.

Within SHIP walls the 2015/2016 year was equally fruitful, and included the production of 14 CDs and 21 books, which bring SHIP’s total publications to close to 100. Elders also translated a children’s play about SG_aana K_inghlas (Bowie Seamount) and a feature length film in Haida-language with the working title “Edge of the Knife”.


“I absolutely love this program. I joined this program and it has healed me inside and it makes me feel good. I feel so blessed to be a part of it.”

Teaching Teachers

Language mentor GwaaGanad (Diane Brown) reported that at Kay Llnagaay 14 students finished their second year with through Northwest Community College. The students are slated to graduate in 2018 with teaching certificates that will help them to mentor language students of their own. Amongst the program’s dedicated learners was Sing.giduu (Laura Jormanainen), who returned to University at 80 years old to take part in the program.


Kaakuns and Amelia Rea present at the Haida language conference in Juneau.

Gud Kaakan: two people meeting

Experience has shown that master-apprentice training is one of the most successful language learning methods. This year Jiixa (Gladys Vandal) and Daall Jaad (Melody Gravelle) have been meeting in Jiixa’s home, where they converse every day completely in Xaayda Kil. Despite strong interest and multiple applications for the program, the First People’s Cultural Council were only able to fund 300 hours for one master-apprentice duo in the Haida language group. For now, various groups are in the midst of pursuing other sources of funding.


Sdaahl K‘awaas presents her research in Juneau at the Haida language conference.

Xaad Kilang T’alang Dagwiieehldaang (Strengthening Our Haida Voice)

This year Sdaahl K‘awaas (Lucy Bell) joined the ever-growing group of Haida post-graduates with the completion of a master’s thesis discussing how Haida beliefs revitalize Haida language. At the language conference in Juneau she presented her research about Haida foods, medicines, rituals, ceremonies, and SGaanawee (supernatural beings). Her completed thesis describes approximately 100 ways kuuniisii (Haida ancestors) would have employed these five things to heal Xaad Kil.

Learning Xaad Kil will alter behaviours, values, and perceptions. So much of Haida life is focused around treating yourself and your community with respect. For example Sdaahl K’awaas explains in a chapter of her thesis how eating well can enable language students to focus their energy with healthy bodies and minds.

“It is important to feel firmly rooted in our family and connected to our Haida ancestors. This deep sense of belonging makes us strong,” Sdaahl K’awaas writes. “An ancestral diet ties us to our environment. To learn, you need energy, memory and concentration, a healthy immunity and healthy emotions. This can be achieved through eating the foods we grew up eating with our grandparents. Shellfish, vegetables, berries, fish and mushrooms provide the needed vitamins A, C, magnesium, calcium, iron, selenium and zinc. It’s also important for the learner to limit or avoid sugar, alcohol, caffeine, stress, cigarettes and recreational drugs and focus on healing foods for the mind and body.”

Further sections of her thesis discuss how medicines, rituals, and acknowledgment of SGaanawee will heal Haida language learners and their environments. This will provide an understanding of Haida history, social structure, and context making it easier for the learner to feel encouraged, energized, and motivated as they continue to pursue their studies.


Kaa’illjuus and Joseph Hillaire present their year’s work and achievements to the Haida language conference in Juneau.

Dalang ‘waadluwaan aa Hl kil ‘laagang (To speak kindly of everyone)

This year representatives of the Xaadas Kil Kuyaas Foundation (KXXF) fundraised and made personal contributions to travel to Juneau from Hydaburg. KXXF Executive Director Kaa’illjuus (Lisa Lang) arrived in Juneau with Joseph Hillaire, a student who reported he had completed a two-credit course called Xaad Kil Editing through Hydaburg High School.

KXXF is a five-year-old non-profit run by a team of seven Haida volunteers based out of Hydaburg. The group’s mission is “to promote, preserve and perpetuate our rich Haida cultural legacy”. It aims to create a group of adult speakers who can edit, read, and write Xaad Kil. The course is open to adults and students 15 years and up. In its second year eight interested students will begin the course with the instruction of Ryan Kessler.

In 2016/2017 XKKF aims to offer the editing course through Hydaburg City School, to receive a capacity grant, and to develop further Language Programs.


Enjoying the Journey: K‘aayll and Howustii take time to explore the mountains that surround Juneau after the Haida language conference.



“It’s not just the language, its how you behave in this world. It’s how you hold yourself up in the world.”

“We have to hang on to every word”

For two years the Ketchikan Indian Community’s Education and Training program only one staff member, Skíl Jáadei (Linda Schrack), a cultural instructor who is passionate about Haida language revitalization. This year she is joined by a new director, Katie Jo Parrott, and three Language Heritage Facilitators including Kuuyang (Benjamin Young). Ketchikan is looking to hire younger people with the energy and knowledge to practice hard and use the available technology.

The team has already started working hard to host several programs, including cultural camps, where children have started to use Xaad Kil in public on occasion because of revitalization efforts. Much more information about this and many other Haida language efforts are available in this season’s edition of Haida Laas, the official publication of the Haida Nation. Pick one up if you are out and about in Haida Gwaii or contact us at editor@haidanation.com to get onto our mailing list!




Haida language learners enjoy the view after the Haida language conference in Juneau.



Travellers dance their way back home after attending Celebration, a cultural festival that coincided with the Haida language conference in Juneau.


To read about more adventures in Juneau, click here:



Categories: Language

1 Comment

Helga F. Lutke Medd · November 20, 2018 at 8:55 am

I taught Grade One in Old Massett in 1970. I had taught in Vancouver, B.C. and the Haida
people were wonderful to me and my little son. I writing a book about my lovely time there and just now saw this and am wondering what made this happen? Good for you!
Helga F. Lutke Medd.

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